I had the most interesting encounter last weekend, that gave me a strange sense of . . . I don’t know what. Amazement I guess, at how diverse our world is.
I was volunteering in the hospitality room at my daughter’s swim club meet, working with a couple other moms. One is Chinese, studying neuro-science in the US for the last 18 months. I was about to discover that she primarily feeds her family traditional Chinese food, and thus has not experienced a wide range of American cuisine. Whatever American cuisine is, I would not have been able to define before the experience that was about to unfold.
As the breakfast tacos were brought in, her eyes widened.
“Are these American breakfast food?” she asked.
Being the food lover and informal educator that I am, I found myself explaining the ins and outs of breakfast in Texas. How tortillas are a Mexican staple, how salsa is made from tomatoes, and how chorizo is a spicy Mexican sausage, while bacon is more a result of the American influence. My new friend quizzed me until she got the words right, and listened to my explanations with rapt attention. I actually still don’t know where scrambled eggs fall in terms of taco authenticity. But I sure felt smart, in addition to satisfied at having been able to expand her horizons.
An hour later, we found several boxes of kolaches waiting to be put out. The eyes widened, the questions began again. This time I felt less like an expert, so I in turn began quizzing random coaches and volunteers as they came into the room.
“How traditional are these kolaches, and is the Czech influence that introduced them common to only this area, or all of Texas?” I found myself asking one willing pontificator.
Huan and I then both learned that while there is one town considered the heart of the Czech population around here, the influence extends throughout most of East Texas. We also learned that traditional kolaches are the jelly filled dough variety, while the sausage or bacon filled ones are once again the result of American influence. However, around here, people tend to refer to the meat buns as kolaches, and the jelly filled ones as danishes. I did not even know that! All I know is that I approve of kolaches!
The thrill of watching someone discover regional food within the confines of that humble hospitality room did not end there. I was able to talk my new friend through making coffee in the gigantic coffee pot, which she professed to like much better than when she had tried to make it at home.
She pointed to my piles of carrots and cut celery next to the bowl of ranch dressing, and asked what we call these when presented this way. I was indeed over-scholarly enough to teach her the word “crudite” but then gave the caveat that around here no one would know what she meant unless she said “cut-up veggies.”
When the local deli dropped off platters of sandwiches for lunch, we concluded together that this was probably something descended from European cuisine. But again, American influence had probably added the pickles and chips.
But oh, the joy of watching this culturally Chinese visitor witness the unveiling of the brownie cake . . . that was the best moment of all. It was nothing special, just a giant brownie packed in a cardboard box, probably purchased from Sam’s Club. I saw a stack of three of them and began to open one in order to cut it up for the impending lunch crowd.
Again, her eyes grew wide.
“Is that cake? Or a cookie?” she breathed. “I have discovered in USA that I like cheese, and chocolate.”
Now, a pregnant momma needs very little coercion to discuss the wonders of chocolate. I joyfully took it upon myself to explain how a brownie isn’t quite as fluffy as a cake, but more like a cake than a cookie. I even freely offered my opinion that this is one of the better ways to enjoy chocolate.
I did not, however, further explain how I grew up eating something called Texas Sheet Cake, only to move to Texas and find out that they have never heard of such a thing; they only have brownies here. Perhaps she had already had enough information for one day!
As I took my leave of my shift in the hospitality room, I made sure my new friend had taken a brownie to try. Her mouth was full, but her eyes and smiling face were all the confirmation I needed.